Ham Radio in the Good Old Days

Why return to the "Good Old Days"?


December 7, 2017 ~ Pearl Harbor Day.

It is hoped we never forget what happened that day 76 years ago.

Bill, N2CQR my friend and Cruise Director of the SolderSmoke Podcast frequently invokes TRGHS, which of course in plain speak "The Radio Gods Have Spoken." To that end just this morning I received an email from Joh in Freiburg, Germany who has been building the Simpleceiver Plus SSB Transceiver.
When I received his email I immediately thought about the current posting. Firstly you should be reminded that Joh, is not licensed as yet but is aggressively pursuing that goal. He has some new found friends as a result of this project and they are assisting him in getting prepared to take his test. 
This is exactly the thrust of my posting! Joh is learning about the circuits and how they really work and how to troubleshoot problems. It is the learning that is what is the heart of the journey. Joh told me that he is now attacking a NorCal40 build in line with Chuck Adams 2018 goal to get the Norcal40/40A operating world wide. It is with every confidence based on his efforts with the Simpleceiver that Joh will have a working NorCal40.
Look closely at his photos --you even see "quick connects" on his switches. The two numbers on the color TFT are the LO Frequency (19 MHz) and the BFO Frequency (11.9 MHz). Note the cool backgrounds behind the numbers --one of those even is a close match to Juliano Blue
BTW Joh, tells me that once he got his rig mated with a proper antenna that the performance was amazing --even some of his new found friends were impressed. I am smiling --but I already knew that.
BTW 2 -- get plugged into VU2ESE as he will be commercially producing the uBitx multiband transceiver. Schematics were just released. It is an impressive design and that too is at the heart of this posting about the inexpensive technology that can produce an amazing radio that will not set you back kilo-bucks! !


Pete N6QW

December 6th, 2017

Ask your self a serious question "Why did I become a ham"? There will undoubtedly be an array of answers and many of those answers will reflect not only your age, your past experience but also where you are today.
Many answers might be that a father or some relative was a ham, while others might be that at the time they entered the hobby it was a form of arm chair travel. Still others might answer it was a natural part of the Dilbert syndrome that you plain had the KNACK and being a ham was just a natural part of the affliction. Many new hams take up the hobby to fill the retirement vacuum. At the risk of forgetting myself, a friend long ago told me that it was his Mom that encouraged him to be a ham. Seems like in WW II she was an intercept code operator for the CIA. Wow bet she knew a thing or two.
By and large all of the roads lead to a common theme --the desire to communicate with others who have similar interests. Today it is the Internet and Social Media that has taken that common theme; but without the need for a soldering iron, nor a desk for holding your rig or wires strung all over the back and front yard.
Today the equivalent of a "ham shack' is hidden in the thin small case disguised as a mobile phone. That "mobile ham shack" does not need a 6 over 6 beam array at 100 feet ,nor an Alpha 9500 Amp or a Flex 6700 for world wide communications where you signal reports are always 20/S9 and the "band" is open 24/7. True some of the fancier Smart Phones cost a kilo-buck but that is a far cry from the $35K you just spent for the 6 over 6, the linear amp and the radio. Lest I forget within that phone we do have various modes such as phone (voice) and CW (texting) so that part is still within
But in the Good Old Days, the need to communicate could only be satisfied by "rolling your own" [an analogy to hand rolled cigarettes when people smoked a lot]. Thus to get on the air you had to build your own station. 
Here another element is added to the array and that was the development of the technical skills necessary to construct, tune, align and operate the rig. Standard tools for bashing metal (these rigs used tubes and you had to mount the tube sockets) included a drill, and various metal files. If you had $$$ you might actually have some Greenlee Chassis Punches which produced a far better looking hole than that ugly one done with a rat tail file.
True the rigs were pretty Spartan consisting of a one or two tube "regens" for a pair of "ears" and the transmitter was often just a simple one tube oscillator. Undoubtedly the receiver was "cranky" and the transmitter if you were lucky might produce 5 to 10 watts of "pure chirp". Initially your station might be CW only but then some clever guys figured out how to add screen grid modulation (low cost) and if you were uptown then it would be plate modulation (higher cost). Your Smart Phone comes with that as standard.
In the building process you learned to be a scrounger and the cost of your rig was in direct proportion to how really good you were at scrounging. A defunct commercial broadcast receiver was a treasure trove of parts needed to build your rig. There was also a lot of hand building many of the parts you needed. I keep thinking of the ham who needed a variable capacitor who experienced a twofer --he took two beer cans and built a cylindrical variable capacitor. He enjoyed the beer first and the variable cap second. If our builder was really lucky and flush with cash he might actually have two crystals so he could operate in various parts of the band. After getting some air time under his belt the next progression might be to build a drifty analog vfo --so now he could work the whole band.
The TR switch often was pretty exotic consisting of a Double Pole Double Throw Knife Switch that was located at some place at the operating position where the operator could throw the switch and hit the key within a fraction of a second.
But what glory it was to make contacts with a receiver and transmitter you built. True the ham that spent $50K gets some glory when he rotates the two 100 foot towers that have phased 6 over 6 beams and opens and closes the band. But just think your homebrew rig might have cost $25. Did you both make contacts --of course. Did you both enjoy the communication process -- yes. But on a cost basis who spent less?
Just heard that the ICOM 7610 is out for distribution and $4K gets you the basic rig. So if you add power supplies and special microphones and auxiliary filters and crystal oven TCO's then add $2K. If you want to add the new Elecraft SS Amp add $6K. So $12K is better than $20K but where I come from in this hobby I would never spend that kind of $$$ just to say I have the latest and greatest. True my homebrew rigs don't have all of the bells and whistles like an ICOM 7610 but I do have a rebuilt Heathkit SB-200 and that will get me to 600 Watts + and so my playing field is maybe $1200 and I do make lots of contacts.
So despite the IARU saying that hams exist for two reasons: contests and operating, there are some of us who build our own rigs. I take pride in using what I have built and I also insure that at all times I try to put out the best signal possible. In building your own rig this requires an investment in knowledge and time to build the rig. I might spend a month building a rig and when I finish I have a sense of pride in "rolling my own"! There is another factor and that is the availability of advanced technology low cost parts. You can build a high stability digital VFO with color TFT display and have that for a $20 bill.
I am amazed at all of the information that is available on the Internet coupled with the low cost of parts. (If you can do surface mount --resistors and capacitors in bulk will cost a penny a piece). In the final analysis --building your own gear takes time, effort and dedication. In our instant gratification, couch potato world --it is easier to flash the plastic and just flip a switch and regale that for only $12K you are having all this fun! In the Good Old Days the fun was a total process from "noodling" the elements of a rig, building same and getting on the air. You can't imagine my joy when asked about my station and I proudly say "The rig on this end is homebrew!"
If you have not spent time in the Good Old Days, then just make sure you don't exceed your credit limit when you charge the ICOM 7610.
Pete N6QW


  1. That's a really good post Pete. All those high dollar, high power stations are nice and all, but I have never used a commercial rig. I think it is truly amazing that I can communicate with someone, with something I built myself. Sure my 2 rigs only produce about 5 watts, but I have still made contacts over 500 miles!!! I still amazes me. With each build, I learn something new and hopefully can carry that skill over to an even better radio than the last. I am so glad that I live in an era where there is so much shared knowledge on the internet to help. You and the many other bloggers out there help inspire and motivate people like me to enjoy this hobby even more.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and wisdom to all of us.....


    Dean AC9JQ

  2. BTW, Joh's rig looks really nice. His neatness and attention to detail really shows. I'm confident he will create many more beautiful rigs in his future....



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